When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting

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Photo credit: StockSnap. Description: Woman with eyes closed and shadow across face.

I want to talk about something I witnessed last week in the online world.

First, a little background. A couple of years ago, I became increasingly aware of a pervasive phenomenon in the (overwhelmingly white) women’s spirituality/ personal growth circles I move in. I noticed persistent attempts to deny and disown painful realities by insistence (overt or implied) that we create our struggles with our negative thinking or energy or low vibration or fill-in-the-blank. I do believe the way we frame things in our thinking can be important to our well being and success, up to a point. I do believe we have some authentic choice around where we place our focus, and those choices can impact our well being and success, up to a point. However, I found the blanket application and oversimplification of these ideas to be profoundly negating of people’s life experience. It also borders on blaming people for certain external realities truly beyond their control.

I wrote a blog post at that time called “Anger and Spirituality Are Not Mutually Exclusive” in a stumbling attempt to speak to this thing I couldn’t name. I didn’t know then that I didn’t have to name it because it already had a name—Spiritual Bypassing—and there’s a whole book about it. I found this out when a dear friend put her copy of the book in my hands and said, “Will you please read this already? It’s what you’ve been bitching about for a year.”

Here’s the quick definition:
“Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.” —Robert Augustus Masters, PhD

Since I blogged about my barely nascent thoughts on this, I’ve become increasingly interested in that place where spirituality/personal growth and social justice meet. As such, I’ve also become increasingly aware of how spiritual bypassing thwarts and blocks us from getting closer to freedom and justice for all.

Unfortunately, my education was accelerated last week when I witnessed an epic display of spiritual bypassing in its most malignant and hypocritical form. It was mixed with racist rhetoric that went unchecked, followed by painful exacerbation alternating with fauxpologies and denials over the course of three days. The result was women of color getting hit with racism and manipulative psychological aggression under the grotesque pretense of concern for social justice and “love and light.” It was so disturbing on multiple levels, I’m still kind of reeling from it. I can’t even imagine how the women who were impacted felt.

Calling this stuff out, regardless of how directly or gently, inevitably leads to accusations of divisiveness from the “love and light” brigade, right on cue. I’ve seen this called “lightwashing,” which is an apt term. It’s so utterly predictable that when your objections to this kind of nonsense and abuse elicit those accusations, you know you’re on the right track. What these folks won’t see is that their unchecked racism and/or denials of the existence and impact of racism created the division in the first place.

Here’s the thing: I believe in “love and light.” BUT. I have zero interest in using that language to allow me to live in a pseudo-spiritual bubble and deny reality—my own or that of others. I am interested in authentic love, authentic spirituality, truth and justice. This sometimes means fierceness and calls to right action. When that is what a situation calls for, bringing it to bear is “love and light” in practice.

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Racism and spiritual bypassing are harmful in and of themselves, and their combination compounds the harm. Add gaslighting, and you’ve got an exponentially toxic brew. In this case, the manipulative elements and dizzying doublespeak were staggering. There were acknowledgements that racism had in fact occurred, followed by denials that it did, round and round. There were fauxpologies followed by defending, round and round. There were expressions of caring for those who had been hurt, immediately followed by not-so-subtle digs at them, round and round.

This culminated in the ultimate act of gaslighting and erasure when, after an explicitly stated commitment not to do so, all the relevant threads were deleted, along with hour upon hour of intellectual and emotional labor spent by dozens of people—women of color, for whom it is most taxing, and white women—who wrote brilliantly to explain the nature of the situation to this person who pretended she was open and listening, thereby perpetuating the discussion. Said erasure not only communicates utter contempt for people’s generously given time and energy, it also communicates, “This never happened.” Gaslighting 101.

A few days later, I read a fascinating interview with the New York Times reporter, Jodi Kantor, who broke the Harvey Weinstein story. Kantor described how Weinstein and his people responded to her team when it was clear he was getting caught:

“If you picture a piano where apology is on the left hand of the keyboard and denial is on the right hand of the keyboard, they were playing both sides of the keyboard and everywhere in between, and it kept moving. So I think in terms of the pushback, part of what I was concentrating on as a reporter was this sort of fundamental question like ‘are they denying this? Or is he apologizing? Is he disputing the facts here?’ Because whatever his reaction is, we want to capture it correctly, but we are hearing a lot of different reactions from him.”

When I read that, my blood went cold, because that’s precisely what I had just witnessed. I guess predators of all types operate from similar playbooks.

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I noticed something else while all this was going on. I felt very sure, and maybe even a little self satisfied, about the huge gulf between myself and the people causing harm. And while I’m certain that I am constitutionally and ethically incapable of the particular behavior I witnessed, there were echoes of myself in it. I’m still in the beginning stages of learning about systems of oppression, all the ways those systems hurt people, as well as how they benefit me as a white person (whether I want to believe that or not). It is useful to remember where I started, and to actively avoid getting complacent because of how far I may think I’ve come.

Men being able to say, “Well, I’m nothing like that!” about people like Harvey Weinstein (or even less egregious offenders) doesn’t give them a pass from looking at where they’ve been complicit in upholding rape culture. Similarly, when white people know we could never be like people we see perpetrating blatant or thinly veiled racist attacks, it doesn’t give us a pass from unpacking where we have been complicit in systemic oppression. For example, I spoke up this time, but if I’m honest, was there a time in the not-so-distant past when I would have watched that situation unfold with horrified fascination and failed to speak out? Probably. Was there a time in the not-so-distant past when I would have thought, if not said or typed out loud, “OK, I agree, but jeez, couldn’t they make these points a little more ‘constructively’ (read: ‘nicely’) so more people would listen?” Yes. (And if you’ve ever thought or said something similar in the context of discussions about oppression, please click here and read this right now.)

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Fellow white people, if you also care about these issues (which should be all of us, right?), I ask two things:

1) If spirituality is an important part of your life (as it is for me), and/or if you place a high value on positive thinking, and especially if you’re a Law of Attraction enthusiast, please read about spiritual bypassing beyond the paragraph definition. Related articles as well as the book are linked below. We need to understand the nature of this thing so we can actively avoid it, especially if the thing being bypassed, denied or oversimplified is the reality of systemic oppression and how it impacts people from marginalized groups. Side benefit: understanding this can help us deal with everything else in our own lives more skillfully, too

2). When we see racism happening in front of us, whether in our online spaces or in real life, we have to do better about speaking up unequivocally. It’s important, we don’t have to be experts in institutional racism, and we don’t have to do it perfectly. Even if we’ll never convince the person we’re addressing, others watching the interaction may be able to listen and expand their awareness. Either way, it matters that at the very least we somehow convey, “This is wrong, please stop” and/or show explicit support for the person being impacted. It’s uncomfortable, especially for people who habitually avoid confrontation, but saying nothing gives it the green light, and that means we are complicit. Most importantly, we hear again and again from people of color that what hurts as much if not more than racist incidents is all the “nice” white people who witness it and do nothing.

Willingness to push past our discomfort in these situations is literally the rock bottom least of our responsibilities, considering the risks, abuses and indignities black and brown people and other marginalized groups live with on a daily basis. I think it helps to give some thought beforehand to different ways we might respond, so that when it happens we can think on our feet and not freeze in deer-in-the-headlights fashion.

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Here are some links to articles (and a book) specifically related to spiritual bypassing and how it impacts social justice:

I Need to Talk to Spiritual White Women about White Supremacy (Part One) by Layla Saad

I Need to Talk to Spiritual White Women about White Supremacy (Part Two) by Layla Saad (this also contains links to more readings and women of color whose work we can learn from and support)

Why White Lady Sisterhood Needs to Evolve by Rachael Rice

Converting Hidden Spiritual Racism into Sacred Activism: An Open Letter to Spiritual White Folks by Virginia Rosenberg

Spiritual Bypassing: Avoidance in Holy Drag by Robert Augustus Masters, PhD. (an article-length overview)

Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters by Robert Augustus Masters (the book)

These are some broader articles on racism, white privilege, and white fragility that I’ve found helpful. (A couple of these contain swear words. Still valuable. We can handle it.):

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

No, We Won’t Calm Down—Tone Policing Is Just Another Way to Protect Privilege by Robot Hugs

Why I Don’t Talk About Race with White People by John Metta

What I Told My White Friend When He Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

Welcome to the Anti-Racism Movement—Here’s What You’ve Missed by Ijeoma Oluo

The Definition, Danger and Disease of Respectability Politics, Explained by Damon Young

Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism by Monica T. Williams, PhD

Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person by Gina Crosley-Corcoran

Holy Shit, Being an Ally Isn’t About Me! by Real Talk: WOC and Allies

How to Survive In Intersectional Feminist Spaces 101 by Saroful

Thank you for reading and being willing to learn, and unlearn, along with me.

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2017. All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trouble With Saying “Not All White People…”

This is an excerpt of a post that appears on Medium .Click here to see the full story there.

As a white woman, I post a lot of things on social media directed specifically at other white people and how we contribute to racism. I’m not doing the woker-than-thou thing, putting myself above it all. I’ve been actively learning about systemic racism in earnest for only about a year, and I have infinitely more to learn. When I post an article or video about something white people need to stop doing, I very well may have done that exact thing in the past. Unfortunately, that includes having said #notallwhitepeople, if not in those exact words. I’ll explain that in a minute, but first, please watch the following 2-minute video about the problem with not-all-white-people sentiments, particularly in the context of what happened in Charlottesville two weeks ago.

Flashback to January, after the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. …

To keep reading, click here to see the story on Medium. 

© Copyright Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2017. 

Notes from a Radical Self-Care Weekend

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This past weekend, I was blessed to spend three nights at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the beautiful Berkshire mountains with one of my closest friends. There is so much to love about this place. The view of the mountains and lake. Dancing to live drums on Saturday (my very favorite thing). Yoga and more yoga. Time for hiking in the woods, sitting at the lake, journaling, and reading. The fourth floor sunroom, the labyrinth. The little things, like filling my water bottle with the herbal iced teas that are available 24/7 and the blankets in the bin on the big front patio, in case you forgot to grab your sweater or want to spread out on the lawn. Oh, and the beautiful, amazing food.

It’s a big place that draws 40,000 people per year. At this point, after half a dozen trips, I feel very much at home there, and at the same time, completely anonymous. It’s a strange yet comforting combination. Continue reading

An Ordinary Day in a Privileged Life, When the World Is Falling Apart

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“When the world is running down

You make the best of what’s still around” —Sting

As we heard the news of the final massacre in Aleppo on Tuesday, I felt things that are becoming all too familiar. There was, first and foremost, horror, heartbreak, and confusion about how such atrocities can keep happening, and incomprehension about what is wrong with human beings? In addition, it felt utterly perverse that my family and I were about to spend the evening decorating our Christmas tree in our safe (for now, anyway), warm house while this human catastrophe was happening simultaneously.

I woke up the next morning full of heartache and foreboding for Aleppo, and for everything that’s weighed heavily on my heart most prominently since the summer, beginning with the latest spate of police killings of unarmed black people, and intensifying with, of course, the election.

So I began another day with the question: How do I approach my relatively cushy (for now, anyway) life on the days when it seems like evil forces are taking over the whole world?

Continue reading

Being a Parent on Day 1 of Trump’s America

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When it started to go bad Tuesday night, I sat on the couch with gathering dread in the pit of my stomach, like millions of Americans. I was sobbing before the deal was sealed, already terrified and angry that it could be that close. The first coherent thought that crystalized within the fog of disbelief and terror was, “Oh my God, how will we tell the kids in the morning?” Continue reading

Hope for Humanity in the Face of Trumpocalypse

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Nasty Woman

To say the presidential campaign is a horror show is the understatement of the year. We have a truly frightening number of people actively endorsing white supremacy and casual sexual assault against women, and not caring that our children are receiving the message, loud and clear (even if he loses), that this is not only excusable behavior, but becoming of the potential leader of our country.

Wednesday night’s final debate was predictably horrifying but brought no real surprises, because as Samantha Bee’s team points out, absolutely anything could happen in this campaign now. There are no standards of basic human decency or adult behavior, never mind presidential behavior or even entry-level professionalism. There is no bottom. Continue reading

Thank You, Rickie Lee Jones

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Photo Credit: Toni Verd via Compfight cc

If you need me anytime in the foreseeable future, chances are I’ll be home listening to Rickie Lee Jones. I went to see her show a couple weeks ago, an experience that reverberates. I hadn’t listened to her music in a long time. Now I’m in happy obsession mode and her new album, The Other Side of Desire, is on its way to me. (A lyric from that old Journey song springs to mind out of nowhere, “I get the joy of rediscovering you.” Yes, I’m a huge sap at heart.)

I first discovered her 2+ decades ago, in my 20’s. I listened to her first two albums constantly, then for whatever crazy reason, I stopped there. I must have gotten pulled in some other direction. (Who else was it back then? PJ Harvey. Hole. Ani DiFranco.) Since Jones’s show, I’ve been listening to those same two CD’s again, on repeat. Now I’m ready for some new (and new to me) stuff, so I looked up her discography, and holy shit, between studio and live recordings, there are 18 more albums to explore! It’s like Christmas.

She played in a small, intimate setting (for Southern New England people—the Narrows in Fall River—awesome venue, check it out). Continue reading